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Venezuela: And what about the right to private property?

By Veneconomy

Since calling on Venezuelans to acknowledge his victory in the referendum, President Chávez has made two announcements regarding the future of private property. In the first, he exhorted state governors and mayors throughout the country to expropriate idle urban land for it to be used to develop projects for building low-income housing. Chávez proposed developing urban projects on idle land that falls within the classification of being liable to “expropriation for public purposes” and that is “suitable for such purpose.”

And in the second, he asked that the Lands Law be enforced more aggressively so as to fight against large estates and ordered the CUFAN (Unified National Armed Force Command) and the National Lands Institute (INTI) to draw up –in two weeks- an inventory of idle lands with a view to handing them over to people who want to work them.

With the announcement of these criteria, the issue of the “respect” for the constitutional right to private property has been put at the top of the agenda for the dialog that the President wants to have with the business sector. The intention to expropriate idle lands is not a new one. In November 2001, Chávez approved the Lands Law by means of a presidential decree, which was overturned in 2003 by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, who ordered the return of some pieces of land in Barinas to their owners. The President considered that the TSJ had “stabbed” the law, and the INTI implemented the Agrarian Charters. An immediate consequence of this resolution was that, in 2003, several private productive farms were either invaded or allocated to members of cooperatives, who, with the protection granted by these charters, took possession of the land. Although the resolution did not establish the appropriation of private productive lands as its objective, in practice that was what happened in several cases. At that time, there was a wave of invasions throughout practically the entire country, and now the same thing is happening again.

The fact of the matter is that, in the rural areas, the majority of idle lands are in the hands of the State and there are very few in urban areas. Apart from that, no job or agricultural production plans have been drawn up, nor have any urban projects been designed. All this leads gives grounds for thinking that these announcements have nothing to do with agricultural and housing policies, and that they are intended as a threat to be used selectively against the private sector, a threat that has already gone beyond pure rhetoric.

The conditions for any future dialog have already been set by the President, who has put the business sector on the defensive.

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